Fancy a Cuppa with Royalty? An Exhibition by heritage york

Heritage York acknowledges the lands we are on were part of, and subject to, the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Confederacy of the Anishinaabe and allied nations, to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes including along the Humber River.

We also acknowledge this land has been sacred territory of ancestral Wendat and Tionontati First Nations, Haudenosaunee peoples, and most recently Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Today, Toronto is home to many indigenous people from across Turtle Island, including Métis, and we celebrate the Covenant which binds all generations to protect and care for these sacred lands on which we gather today.

Fancy a Cuppa with Royalty?

Is there something your family has collected? Coins, stamps, books, or toys? If the answer is yes, then you and your family are part of a tradition going back many years. Canadians are collectors. For many, this hobby has an emotional connection to something we feel strongly about. It is not about the cost, but rather personal enjoyment and the commemoration of events. Stories can be told through souvenirs.

1. Great Britain stamp issued in 1937 to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. 2. 1901 Canadian one cent coins depicting Queen Victoria. 3. Canadian 25 cent paper money or “shinplaster” (1900). A “shinplaster” was of low value, typically less than one dollar. They circulated in the 19th and early 20th century when there was a shortage of coins. Courtesy of Joy Cohnstaedt. Photo by Alynese Nightingale

While collecting is often a hobby and passion, over time it has turned into a business with an ever-growing market. As the tourism industry grew, so did the market for souvenirs and other collectables.

Image Courtesy of Joy Cohnstaedt.

Read on to see the story of King George VI’s 1937 Coronation and the 1939 Royal Tour to Canada, and how these monumental events made their way to Lambton House.

The Royals are Britain’s Brand
Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebrated in Toronto. Toronto Public Library Collection.

Royal memorabilia are popular among collectors. When major life events happen such as marriages, coronations, or births, more souvenirs are made to market the Royal Family.

The profile of Queen Victoria on an 1868 Canadian stamp. © Canada Post Corporation 1868.

Royal memorabilia appeared as early as the Coronation of King Charles II in 1661, with hand-made chargers, a type of plate. The “Royal Brand” we see today began in the Victorian Era with the Industrial Revolution and expansion of the global market. During Queen Victoria’s reign, family photos and images of other events, such as her Diamond Jubilee, were popular in Great Britain and the colonies.

As the market for Royal memorabilia in Britain grew, territories wanted English products to show their connection to the mother country. Ceramic tea sets from Britain were in high demand in the colonies. After World War I, British potteries took over almost the entire Canadian market for souvenirs.

This Canadian King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, stamp was released on May 10, 1937 two days before the Coronation. © Canada Post Corporation 1937.

In 1987, Queen Elizabeth II established the Royal Collection Trust, a British charity, to manage and conserve works of art, artifacts, and books held by the Queen in Right of the Crown. The Royal Collection is to be kept in trust for her successors and as much as possible seen by the public. Many commemorative souvenirs are kept in the Royal Collection.

“Compliments of Lambton Hotel”
From the Heritage York Collection. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.

Lambton House has been tied to this Royal phenomenon by two unique collectables – an earthenware cup and saucer, and a plate with Royal family decorative art. The plate depicts the Royal couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, with a crown, flags, and an English rose on the front with the trademark on the bottom. There is an inscription that reads “Compliments of Lambton Hotel” on the back. They were likely commissioned by Louis Epstein, proprietor, through a Toronto china and glass merchant to celebrate the 1937 Coronation and the 1939 Royal Tour. The plate is said to be a gift to the tavern’s cook, Mrs. Smith.

From the Heritage York Collection. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.
Heritage York Collection. Cup 7 x 10 x 8 inches. Saucer 5 x 5 x 0.75 inches. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.

The back of the cup shows the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Elizabeth would be crowned Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Heritage York Collection. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.

The manufacturer of this set, Alfred Meakin Ltd., was the primary maker of consumer British dinner, tea, and coffee wares exported to Canada in the 1920s and 1930s.

Heritage York Collection. Plate 8.5 x 8.5 x 0.75 inches. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.
Heritage York Collection. Saucer 5 x 5 x 0.75 inches. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.

Following the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, the Royal couple set out on a tour of Canada in 1939. The King and Queen arrived by ship in Quebec City and travelled west by train, visiting most of the major cities. They finished the tour with a visit to the Maritime provinces and departed from Halifax.

As the first of its kind, the event was of great historical significance and commemorated with souvenirs. In 1939, the most popular souvenir items were mugs, cups, and saucers, usually printed on poor to fair quality low firing clay. Images from the King's Coronation were often re-used. This popular priced consumer china was sometimes given away at movie theatres or by local businesses. Finer pieces are rare. The Lambton House china set is one of the more affordable souvenirs.

George VI visits Woodbine Racetrack, Toronto, for the King's Plate on May 22nd, 1939. The King's Plate is an annual Thoroughbred Race. The 80th King's Plate, pictured here, was attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their tour. This was the first time in history the race had been visited by the King or Queen. Now the race takes place at the new Woodbine Racetrack in Etobicoke.

Dundas Photo Service. Toronto Public Library, Special Collections.
A Royal Connection

The Royal Visit of 1939 made citizens want to show their loyalty to the British Crown. The visit was carefully planned to create support for Britain. Politics were difficult in Europe and many people recognized that World War II was about to happen. Lambton Hotel had a unique connection to the Crown through the Lieutenant Governors, which represent Their Majesties.

Sir William Pearce Howland served as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, beginning in 1868. A Father of Confederation, he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1879. Howland leased and purchased property on the Humber River and renamed Coopers Mills “Lambton Mills” in honour of John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham.

Sir William Pearce Howland 1869, Toronto. By John Arthur Fraser, Wiliam Notman Studio. Portrait 27 x 15 inches. Photo by Alynese Nightingale.

Today, Lambton House’s connection to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor continues. Henry Newton Rowell “Hal” Jackman, was the 25th Lieutenant Governor. On August 29th, 1993, he arrived, in a horse and surrey, at Lambton House to celebrate the City of York Bicentennial.

Heritage York Collection. Photo by Howard Ashbourne.

In 2017, on the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell visited Lambton House to unveil the image of John Lambton. Lambton was appointed Governor General and British High Commissioner of British North America in 1838.

Heritage York Collection. Photo by Jose Atencia.

The meaning of souvenirs is complex. The context of souvenirs and collecting is constantly changing. However, it is undeniable that collecting connects us all - whether to each other, places or events.

Bury Free Press June 2nd, 1953. Coronation Souvenir. Courtesy of Karen Roe.

Some of your older relatives may have souvenirs from the Coronation or the 1939 Royal Tour. They may have collected souvenirs from other major events as well. Does your family have any souvenirs from World War II? Or the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953?

Do you collect anything? What does it mean to you?


Thank you to Heritage York, and especially to Paivi Evars for the poster design, for their support and help in creating this exhibition.

Special thanks to Joy Cohnstaedt for both her work and guidance in making this exhibition possible.

My sincere appreciation to Peter Kaellgren, Curator Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum, for lending his expertise and knowledge.

Thank you to Emily Flynn for donating her time to help photograph the souvenir collection.

Finally, thank you to the Toronto Public Library and the Canada Post Corporation for their contributions to this exhibition.

Lambton House Coronation of King George and Queen Elizabeth commemorative earthenware plate circa 1937 donated by Anne Shaw Kyle to Heritage York, 2017

Lambton House Coronation of King George and Queen Elizabeth commemorative earthenware cup and saucer circa 1939 donated by Des Ellis to Heritage York, 2019

Alynese Nightingale

Master of Museum Studies

University of Toronto

Graduate Intern, 2020

This exhibition was curated and designed by Alynese Nightingale for Heritage York, 2020.